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Old 12-19-2011, 06:58 AM   #1
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Default Bires: Don't leave your chances in San Francisco

Bires: Don't leave your chances in San Francisco
By Mike Bires mbires@timesonline.com | Posted: Sunday, December 18, 2011 10:12 pm

Sunday gave us more high drama in the National Football League.

The Packers finally lost.

The Colts finally won.

The Tim Tebow express was derailed.

All that came before the last two games of Week 15, a pair of primetime blockbusters with playoff implications with all four parties involved.

By now, you've probably heard that the Ravens (10-4) gave the Steelers (10-3) a chance to move into first place in the AFC North by losing to the Chargers (7-7).

By now, you've probably heard that the Steelers clinched at least a wild-card berth without even playing Sunday. They could have accomplished that by winning in San Francisco tonight. But any of the losses by the Broncos, Titans, Raiders and Jets would have gotten the Steelers into the Super Bowl tournament. It just so happened that all four of those teams did lose.

Now, the short-handed Steelers must beat the 49ers (10-3) in order to move into sole possession of first place in the division and, for the time being at least, move into the No. 1 seed position in the AFC.

Obviously, the Steelers want to win every game they play. But really, playoff seeding is overrated.

Sure, the Steelers would love to have home-field advantage as they did last year and in 2008 before advancing to the Super Bowl. It would be more convenient for them and their fans. But as they proved in 2005, and as the Giants proved in 2007 and the Packers last year, playing on the road doesn't really matter to teams peaking at the right time.

Last year, both No. 1 seeds were one-and-done. The 14-2 Patriots and 13-3 Falcons were stunned at home in the divisional round of the playoffs.

Two years ago, both No. 1 seeds -- the 14-2 Colts and 13-3 Saints -- did advance to the Super Bowl.

But in 2008, both No. 1 seeds -- the 13-3 Titans and 12-4 Giants -- were upset losers at home in the divisional round.

So for as critical as we all think tonight's game is for the Steelers, it really isn't.

What is important for the Steelers is that they get Ben Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey back to full strength as soon as possible. Both suffered high ankle sprains last week. Pouncey won't play against the Niners. If the injury report is true to its word, Roethlisberger has a 50/50 chance.

Knowing what an intense competitor Roethlisberger is, he'll do everything in his power to play. That will probably include begging.

So far this season, there have been 15 instances in which a Steeler has been listed as questionable. In only one instance was that player allowed to play. That was Hines Ward, who missed the previous week's game with an ankle injury.

Ward was questionable for the next game against the Ravens, but he didn't last very long. He was KO'd with concussion-like symptoms courtesy of a second-quarter hit by Ray Lewis.

What's most important for the Steelers tonight is Roethlisberger leaving San Francisco with his health intact. He's going to be needed once the playoffs start regardless of where the Steelers play.

In this wild and crazy season, the Steelers have as good a chance as anyone to make it to the Super Bowl. They just need to make sure their stars are healthy once the playoffs begin.
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